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Students present Innovation Scholars experiential research project findings

Four students representing the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University recently concluded their work in the Innovation Scholars Program. The team presented their project recommendations to DiaspoCare, an early-stage medical company affiliated with Medical Alley. DiaspoCare provides a mobile app to assist Africans’ management of funds to pay for quality healthcare for their families from anywhere in the world.  

CSB senior biology major Maria Hassan (Fishers, Indiana), CSB senior computer science major and global business leadership minor Aretha McDonald (Nassau, The Bahamas), CSB senior math major Elise Yeager (Clearwater, Minnesota) and CSB junior biology major and data analytics minor Ashley Zielinkski-Schloegel (Minneapolis, Minnesota) represented the team on Feb. 28 in Minneapolis.

Working at the intersection of science, healthcare and entrepreneurship, the multidisciplinary team of four Saint Ben’s students spent four months tackling a challenging tech transfer project focused on mobile access and payment for quality healthcare. They completed extensive research, developed recommendations, prepared their final report and polished their final presentation for DiaspoCare company leaders.   

Innovation Scholars offers a unique opportunity for multidisciplinary teams of outstanding liberal arts students to explore the interface of science, healthcare and medicine, economics, business and entrepreneurship. Students work as a team to analyze real innovations in real time.

Led by MBA students, teams of undergraduates from Minnesota private colleges and universities research and recommend next steps for inventions and new products in development at Mayo Clinic and at early-stage companies in Medical Alley.

Support and praise from advisors

The students were supported by Hashi Said, an MBA student team leader from Augsburg University. CSB and SJU faculty members Jennifer Schaefer, professor of biology and department chair; and Lauri Miller, visiting assistant professor of accounting and finance, served as project advisors. Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, director of undergraduate research and scholars at CSB and SJU, provided administrative support.

“The Innovation Scholars Program is a fantastic opportunity for students to take on a real project and practice the skills that they will need as professionals,” Schaefer said. “The students learn to work in a team, take initiative, deal with ambiguity and work across disciplines. They are asked to think creatively about a startup company’s challenges and make recommendations for that company’s path forward.

“This year’s team examined a unique global health equity project and produced a strong set of recommendations that helped the company re-examine its challenges and approach. They encountered challenges along the way but ultimately worked together to produce an outstanding report and presentation,” Schaefer added.

“Each year, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholars is thrilled to be able to support an Innovation Scholars team because this experience matches our mission of providing a high-impact research experience that not only helps them expand their knowledge and skillset, but also allows them to see how their research connects to other experiences in their lives and the lives of others,” Gunnerson Gutsch said. “This research process captures the essence of liberal arts and sciences institutions like CSB and SJU, it demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary thinking and application that sets our students up for future career success.

“This year’s team undoubtedly gained and mastered skills throughout their experience. They demonstrated their ability to take initiative, solve problems and navigate real world challenges. Our team showcased their ability to be innovative thinkers and we are incredibly proud of them,” Gunnerson Gutsch added.

CSB and SJU participants at event

A group of faculty, students, officials and alumni attended an Innovations Scholars Program research event on Feb. 28 in Minneapolis. Attendees included (from left): Lauri Miller, visiting assistant professor of accounting and finance; Lindsey Gunnerson Gutsch, director of undergraduate research; students Elise Yeager, Ashley Zielinkski-Schloegel and Maria Hassan; Brian Bruess, president; student Aretha McDonald; Jennifer Schaefer, professor and chair of the biology department; Heidi Halvarson ’07, philanthropy program manager at the Medtronic Foundation, an Innovation Scholars funder; and Richard Ice, provost.

CSB Innovation Scholars team

Four students representing the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University recently concluded their work in the Innovation Scholars Program. They include (from left) Ashley Zielinkski-Schloegel, Maria Hassan, Aretha McDonald and Elise Yeager. Their mentor was Hashi Said (back), an MBA student from Augsburg University.

Student reflections on Innovation Scholars Program

Maria Hassan: “I had the opportunity to be a part of the CSB and SJU Innovation Scholars Program and it gave me the chance to work with experts in business, science and healthcare. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to gain real-world experience that would be crucial for my future profession in our increasingly globalized world. I was able to gain knowledge on how to develop a team vision, delegate tasks and foster trust.”

Aretha McDonald: “I already had a passion for the ways in which technology and science are used to solve everyday problems, specifically those within the medical field. This program allowed me to analyze real innovations in real time and helped me recognize the many career avenues I can pursue to fuel this passion. This program allowed me to see the power that ideas can have on the development of global societies and has given me the courage to dream!”

Ashley Zielinkski-Schloegel: “As a biology major who doesn’t want to go to medical school, this project was able to give me a firsthand look into the med-tech industry. It widened my view on potential careers which I’m grateful for as I head into my senior year. This project was centered on the real business world, and I learned a lot about how to handle challenges professionally. Additionally, the interdisciplinary component of the Innovation Scholars project taught me a lot about playing to our team’s individual strengths and weaknesses.”